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Israeli and Polish Scholars Gather to Discuss Anti-semitism in Poland

Israeli and Polish scholars explored the phenomenon of anti-Semitism in Poland at a recent international symposium at Tel Aviv University.

While some of the Polish participants were defensive, others acknowledged that anti-Semitism has been pervasive in their country before, during and since World War II.

The conference, titled “Polish Jewry: The Last Hundred Years,” was sponsored by Tel Aviv University’s Diaspora Research Institute and Center for Research on the History of Polish Jewry. It was held in cooperation with the World Federation of Polish Jews.

Holocaust survivors painfully recalled incidents in their past. Polish social scientists present had a hard time defending their country’s image.

Polish-born Chaika Grossman, a former Knesset member and resistance fighter against the Nazis, acknowledged that some Poles helped her at personal risk.

But Poland is the only country in the world where Jews were murdered after the Holocaust simply because they were Jews, Grossman said.

She witnessed Poles stopping trains, dragging out Jews and Communists, and killing them.

“Children who spent World War II hiding in caves and monasteries returned to their former villages and were murdered,” Grossman said. She observed that 42 Jews were killed in a pogrom in Kielce in July 1946, a year after the war ended.

Stefan Grayek, president of the World Federation of Polish Jews, said no more than 3,000 Poles helped save Jews during the Nazi occupation. Although the Poles were bitterly anti-German, their underground refused Jews’ requests for guns to fight the Nazis, Grayek charged.

Professor Jan Blonski of Poland countered that the underground “had only a few weapons and couldn’t spare any. They needed them to defend themselves, while the Jews wanted guns only in order to die honorably,” he said.

‘INDIFFERENT’ TO SLAUGHTER OF JEWS

Several Israelis accused the Poles of being “indifferent” to the slaughter of Jews in the death camps. Some even turned Jews over to the Nazis, Grayek charged.

Professor Wladyslaw Bartoszewski countered that his countrymen were just trying to survive, “like most of the Jewish population.”

The professor added that the Polish underground also could not save the lives of 2,700 Catholic priests or the 100,000 Poles who were exterminated at Auschwitz.

Professor Krystyana Kersten of the Polish Academy of Sciences attempted to measure and analyze anti-Semitism in Poland, which is today a country virtually without Jews.

Immediately after the Nazis were defeated, many of the surviving Polish Jews rushed to support the Communist regime, expecting it to eradicate anti-Semitism and turn Poland into a country where “Jews could live in safety, where anti-Semites would be punished or repressed,” Kersten said.

That did not transpire. Polish Communists disguised their anti-Semitism by labeling it anti-Zionism, anti-Stalinism or Polish patriotism, Kersten said.

“Jews did not occupy senior positions in the Communist Party, government and administration as Jews,” she said. Those who made it to the top were “Communists who underwent a process of acculturation and mostly became completely assimilated.” Even so, they were not accepted.

In 1968, the government sought to “sanitize” the armed forces and the foreign service by ousting Jews from them.

FEELINGS OF IMPOTENCE

Yet Jews were damned by the Polish public for their association with the Communists. The association between Jews and the hated government became “an obsessive myth,” Kersten said.

That despite the fact that Jews, who constituted 10 percent of the Polish population before World War II, dwindled to 1 percent after the war and now account for 0.1 percent.

Because so few Jews remain in Poland, militant anti-Semites turn from violence against Jews to vandalizing Jewish cemeteries, attacking Jewish institutions and daubing anti-Semitic slogans on walls and posters, Kersten said.

Basing her analysis on a survey conducted in 1989, Kersten said Poles simultaneously have feelings of superiority and inferiority toward Jews.

On the one hand, they perceive Jews as selfish, mean, devious, greedy, dangerous and unwilling to do hard work. On the other hand, Jews are seen as gifted merchants, thrifty, clever, talented, creative, brilliant, dynamic, loyal to one another and wealthy.

Those contradictory perceptions, Kersten believes, are transformed into an anti-Semitism that “is to a large extent a consequence of feelings of weakness, impotence and anxiety.”

The professor added: “In circles where anyone who is different is perceived as alien, and aliens are perceived as dangerous, the positive characteristics of the Jews make them even more dangerous. They can be conveniently blamed for the suffering and the poverty of the Polish people,” she said.

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